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Change for a Tenner! is LIFT's melting pot of ideas around social change, co-curated by Charlie Tims. Ben Walters asks the questions

Image: Tim Etchells


Change for a Tenner! is a strand within LIFT 2014, this year’s London International Festival of Theatre, that aims to explore “the messy, awkward and beautiful art of social change”. Across five events (the first of which was on June 4) and a finale, it will showcase performances and discussions from a range of artists and campaigners hoping to make a difference and offer chances for all who attend to “meet new people and make new friends” – and perhaps spark “the start of a new project”. And all for £9.99, with nice grub and booze available too.

Some details on the events:
Children of the Revolution (Tues, 10 June at Peckham Liberal Club) focuses on how the millennial generation can break the baby-boomer log-jam; Amy Lamé hosts and participants include MEP Amelia Andersdotter and Lili Dmitrovic of People’s Republic of Southwark. [Read our Review here]
With the Lights Out It’s Less Dangerous (Thurs, 12 June, at St Giles in the Field), compered by poets Michelle Madsen and Sam Berkson, asks whether art that involves no risk to the artist really matters, and includes Vladimir Umanets, who was jailed for defacing a Rothko. [Read our Review here]
Some People Think I’m Bonkers, But I Just Think I’m Free (Weds, 18 June, at The Yard), compered by comedian Ivor Dembina, celebrates eccentricity in the company of campaigners - from naturism to the restoration of British Rail. [Read our Review here - by Ben DeVere]
This State of Independence Shall Be (Weds, 25 June, at Wilton’s Music Hall) investigates “the art of declaring independence…featuring micronations, communes and subterranean living”, hosted by Hammer and Tongue’s Michelle Madsen and Sam Berkson, and including Lise Autogena, resident of Denmark’s experimental community Cristiania. [Review by Ben Walters to follow soon after]
The Change For a Tenner! Finale (Thurs, 26 June, at Shoreditch Town Hall) takes the form of a “revolutionary gameshow” in which the audience decide the rules and allocate the box office takings to a cause (or anti-cause) of their choice. [Review by Ben Walters to follow soon after]

The strand is co-curated by Charlie Tims, a Demos associate with special interests in young people, cultural policy and the creative industries who has worked with Burberry, the British Council, the Design Council and the European Commission. We lobbed some questions his way.

Ben Walters: Do you think things can really change on a fundamental social-political level in our society? Is there an alternative? What are the obstacles to overcome?
Charlie Tims: God, I don’t know and I wouldn’t pretend to. That’s why we organised the series! Problem number one is the failure of politicians to tell us what the future could be like and say what they can do to bring it about. There are so many other problems. A blind faith that shiny technology, innovation and freedom are all we need to make the world better. On the whole, I think too few people with too much power don’t want anything to change. And in the absence of a really strong civil society connected to strong political leadership, political parties and so on it seems a bit desperate. I’m also creeped out by the failure of the COP15 climate talks, the brutality of London’s rent-or-be-rented housing situation; that a lot of the optimism around the web seems to have melted away; and the fact that so many of our politicians talk like robots. I can only say that this is why celebrating and learning from people who do try to make social change happen in some form or another is important.

Ben: What role do you think theatre and performance in particular can play in such change?
I think theatre, performance and the arts more broadly do three things. Fundamentally, a lot of people doing theatre put expression and communicating stuff above profits and money. If there is a profit, it’s often invisibly reinvested in connecting to a different audience, taking on harder subject matter, doing something different. That’s a different value system to that at work in much of the rest of the economy and it’s important, because it’s about talking with other people rather than profiting from them. Maybe that’s what’s behind the theatre occupations in Italy and Greece. The second thing is to do with connecting to other activists and campaigners by making causes seem more attractive – it’s like that Emma Goldman quote, ‘If I can’t dance, I don’t want your revolution’. And third, theatre can create imaginary worlds that show the possibility of something different. What you can imagine, and therefore do, is a condition of what you have experienced, and theatre is great at giving people experiences.

Ben: How did you come up with the diverse themes for the events in the strand?
There were several things about six months ago which sort of stuck out and became the impetus for the series: Ellie Harrison’s Bring Back British Rail campaign; the fact that Trenton Oldfield was in danger of being deported for disrupting the boat race; Uffe Elbaek’s leaderless political party, The Alternative; Vladimir Umanets’s two-year incarceration for scribbling on a painting; Belgian author David van Reybrouck’s G1000 parallel parliament; community buy-outs of Scottish Islands; the politics of housing in London. You ask yourself what makes these things interesting and then an idea materialises for an event, and you collect more things that are like those things, and bob’s yer uncle.

Ben: What kind of atmosphere can we expect from the events?
It should be fun. The usual places for this kind of thing are proper institutions with people sitting behind tables with glasses of water. We’ve tried to go for places you wouldn’t normally go for a conversation about social change – places you’d go for a gig rather than a talk. People involved, like Mikey Weinkove, Ivor Dembina, Sam Berkson, Michelle Madsen and Amy Lamé are just really fun people so they should give the whole thing a lift.

Ben: What’s the role of the audience?
Have a drink, ask question, get involved, have another drink. Repeat to fade. Tell us what to do differently.

Ben: Why the gameshow format for the finale?
We liked the idea of the series adding up to something other than a series of blog posts or a report and this is a way of bringing people together to decide what that thing is. It would be nice if it was something provoked by the series. And it’s just a fun way to finish it off.

Ben: Do you think this strand will provoke change itself? What would count as a good outcome for you?
Nah, it’s not that easy. I guess it would be good if someone had an idea for a campaign and started it, and maybe if there was a bit of cross-fertilisation between the festivals audience and the social-change people. Or if more people joined groups like Clapton Ultras, the Basic Income Guarantee Party, Digs or the campaign for the Greater London National Park. That would be nice.

Find out more about Change for a Tenner! here. LIFT have commissioned Run-Riot to report on the Change for a Tenner! series. Follow the hashtags for updates - and make yourself heard #LIFTChange #LIFT2014


Change for a Tenner! is curated by Charlie Tims, Shelagh Wright and Peter Jenkinson. Producing Assistant Alicia Graf. Commissioned by LIFT and supported by Festivals in Transition - Global City Local, Imagine 2020, and House on Fire networks, with support of the Culture Programme of the European Union.

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